Growth & Digital Marketing
Generate demand and boost revenue using advanced digital marketing methods and tools.
branding Business Strategy

How to Build a Rock Solid Brand for Your Small Business and Turn Your Customers into Loyal Fans

building a brand for your small businessBuilding your brand is perhaps the most important aspect of marketing and growing your small business.

It’s proven time and time again that businesses who invest the resources to build their brands are able to build incredible customer loyalty and reap great rewards. Just look at the big brands such as Coca Cola, Nike, Disney, and Apple. These companies invest a big part of their marketing budget on building their brands and have incredible customer loyalty as a result.

Unfortunately, most small businesses ignore this important business strategy.

The Recipe for Building a Successful Brand

By taking the steps to build your brand, you leave no doubt on customers’ and prospects’ mind what your business and brand represent and the kind of experiences they will get when they do business with you.

Studies after studies have shown that customers make buying decisions based mostly on emotions. People like to do business with people whom they like and trust. If you can stir people’s emotions and delight them with great experiences, they will surely want to do business with you for a long time.

Furthermore, your loyal customers will also become your most passionate brand ambassadors. They will want to spread the good words about your business to all their friends and family members. “Words of mouth” marketing is the best form of marketing!

Are you ready to build a rock solid brand? Follow the steps below:

1. First, determine what is special about your business

What’s your value proposition? How do your products or services improve people’s life or make their life better? What promises does your brand make to your target market? What can you do that is better than the competitors? What do you want your customers to say about you?

Write down a short summary that covers all these points. Your goal is to come up with a brand message and promise that clearly conveys your value proposition and clearly distinguishes you from the competition.

Once your brand’s value proposition, position, and brand promise is clearly defined, make sure all your employees and staff are trained so that everything about your business aligns with your brand promise.

This is very important! In the end, you want your brand to stand apart from the competition and leave a strong impression on the customers as well as prospects when they do business with you.

2. Do you have a logo for your business?

No matter how small your business is, it is still necessary for you to have a professional looking logo that represents your business well. It’s worth it! Nowadays, you can find a great designer on Craigslist to design a great looking logo for you for less than $200.

Your logo could be a combination of a symbol or an image with text or it could be just text based. Be sure to keep the design of your logo simple, memorable, and meaningful. If you could, it is recommended to also have a short and punchy tagline that conveys a memorable message about your brand.

Lastly, use a maximum of 2 colors. Once you have a logo, you can use it for your website, business card, brochure, and other marketing collaterals.

3. Do every parts of your business operations support your value proposition?

Analyze all aspects of your business and ask yourself if every parts of your business support support your value proposition or not. Going one step further, what can you do at every aspect of your business operations to enhance the customer experiences?

This include the layout and decoration of your storefront, how your staff greet and treat your customers as well as visitors, your return policy, the quality of your products and services, etc. Even the little things you do can brighten a customer’s day and convert him/her into your loyal customer.

4. Maintain consistency in your image and the experiences that you provide to your customers

Establishing consistency is very important as it helps to etch into memory what your customers think of your brand.

5. Tell your brand story

People love a good story. As such, you should have a compelling story for your brand. How did you get started in your business? What made you to want to start your business in the first place. How do you plan to change people’s lives with your products or services? Have it ready and when the opportunity arises, you can tell a compelling brand story to your clients, prospects, or partners.

Stay Committed to Building Your Brand!

If you commit yourself to building a strong brand for your business and be consistent on delivering remarkable experiences, your customers will always think of you first everytime they have a need for your products or services. Isn’t that powerful? Remember that the promises you make for your brand should match the experiences that customers will have when they do business with you.

I hope the above tips will inspire you to take the necessary actions to build a strong brand for your business starting today. In future posts, I will guide you on to use free online promotional methods to build awareness for your brand. Stay tuned!

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Internet Marketing PPC

7 Powerful PPC Advertising Secrets to Maximize Your ROI for Your Small Businesses

ppc for small businessesPay Per Click (PPC) Advertising is the quickest method of driving targeted traffic to your website. PPC has been proven to be effective if you do it right. If not, you could end up wasting lots of money really fast.

If you are doing online marketing for your small business you should know that every single of your advertising dollar must produce results for you. That’s why it’s critical to setup and manage your PPC campaign correctly and strategically! Follow these tips to ensure you run a successful PPC campaign.

PPC Secret #1 – Create Dedicated Adgroup for Each Group of Related Keywords

Perhaps the biggest mistake that most beginning PPC advertisers make is grouping a bunch of unrelated keywords in the same adgroup with the same ad copy. Doing so will guarantee that you get very low response rates.

Instead, you should create as many ad groups as necessary for the different theme of keywords that you have.  You should not have more than 10 keywords in each adgroup. Next, write relevant ad copy that target those group of related keywords.

For example, if you are running ads for your dental business, you should create separate adgroup and separate ad copy for the keywords “dental cleaning in San Jose” and “cosmetic dentists in San Jose.”

By having dedicated adgroup and ad copy for each related group of  keywords, your ad will attract more targeted and relevant searchers. This results in a lower cost per click and better response rates for you in the long run.

PPC Secret #2 – Use Match Types & Negative keywords

Google PPC allows you to bid for 3 different match types for your keywords – broad, phrase and exact match. Exact match produces the most relevant traffic. Broad match, on the other hand,  usually results in your ads being shown for lots of  irrelevant searches. Exact match usually gives you the best chance for sales and conversions.

Therefore, you should use exact match for all your keywords. You may also add phrase match and broad match for the same keyword to get more ad impressions. But you should bid lower for phrase match and broad match. In other words, for the same keyword, phrase match should have lower bid than exact match and broad match should have lower bid than phrase match. For example, if the keyword is “brown shoes”, a possible bid scenario is as follow:

  • [brown shoes] – $2.00
  • “brown shoes” – $1.80
  • brown shoes – $1.50

In addition, to prevent your ads from being shown for irrelevant searches, you must add these keywords as a negative match. Negative match can be done at both the campaign level and the adgroup level.

PPC Secret #3 – Split Test Your Ads

For each ad group, you should write at least 2 competing ads and let them run at the same time. Be sure to enable the ad rotation feature so that each ad get shown an equal amount of time.

The idea is to test different ad copies and continously optimize the click through rates and/or the conversion rates. Once you get enough data (usually around 50-100 clicks), keep the winning ad and write a new ad to compete against the winning ad.

You may use the ad split tester tool at www.splittester.com to help you select the winning ad. This tool will tell you whether you have enough data point to get a statistically valid result.

Here are some tips to follow to write winning ads:

  • Use clear and concise words that match what the searchers are looking for.
  • Convey compelling benefits about your business or services.
  • Use words and languages that appeal to people’s emotions.
  • Include a strong call to action, i.e. “Get this Now!” or “Download Free Trial Now!”
  • Test with different punctuation marks such as “!” vs “?”.

PPC Secret #4 – Send Ad Traffic to Dedicated Landing Pages

Another big mistake that I see lots of people make is sending all the PPC traffic to a homepage instead of dedicated landing pages. The home page is intended for a wide audience and has all kind of messages on there. By using landing pages, you’re able to customize the messages to match the copies on your ads. As a result, you’ll get much better responses.

Additionally, by using landing pages, you can do A/B tests as well as multivariate tests to optimize the responses. When doing A/B tests or multivariate tests, you can test different variations of headlines, layouts, images and their different combinations in order to find a version that produces the highest response rate.

Here are some tips for creating landing pages that yield the high response rates:

  • Your headline should contain the keywords that the searchers are searching for. Your headline should also offer a compelling promise.
  • Use relevant images to enhance your message.
  • Your message must be clear, concise, and highlight the key benefits of your products or services.
  • Your layout should be clean and simple with enough white spaces to avoid clutter.
  • Use lots of bullet points to summarize the benefits and features of your products or services.
  • Establish trust and credibility by showing off customer testimonials, customers’ logos, awards, or press mentions.
  • Have a Call to Action. Tell the visitors what exactly you want them to do after reading through message. Common “Call to Actions” include “contact us”, “call us”, “add to cart”, or “sign up for free trial.”

PPC Secret #5 – Track Conversions

In order to maximize your ROI, you must track everything. Conversion tracking helps you to find out which campaigns, ad copies, keywords, etc give you the best sales, signups, or responses.

PPC Secret #6 – Pause or Get Rid of non performing keywords

You should continuously monitor your keywords performance in order to ensure you get the best return for your PPC investment.

If a keyword has a low conversion rate or high bounce rate, then it usally indicates that the particular keyword is attracting the wrong audience to your website. You should either get rid of the keyword or put it on pause. Now, if a keyword has a low ad click through rate, then you should check to see if the ad copy is relevant to they keyword or not.

For example, if your keyword is “cat food” and your ad copy says “dog food….”, then it’s likely that you’re not going to see a high ad click through rate for that keyword. Perhaps, you should put that keyword in a separate adgroup and write a dedicated ad for it.

Additionally, if a keyword has a low quality score, you should put it on pause immediately. When you have time later, you can go back and find out why it has a low quality score. It’s most likely related to a low click through rate and a landing page that has no relevance to the keyword.

PPC Secret #7 – Separate Search and Content

One of the common mistake I see beginning adword players make is to activate both the content and search network for the same campaign. This is a BIG no no.

The behavior of the search audience and the content network audience is very different. The search audience are a lot more motivated and perhaps further along the buy cycle. They have a need and are actively looking for a solution. Hence, they use the search engines to search for solutions to their needs or problems.

The audience on the content network, on the other hand,  are there to read an article or to browse around a certain webpage. If your ad is showing up in the content network, you’re basically interupting them and distracting them. If your ad does a good job of attracting their attention, they may be curious enough to click on your ad and check out what your site has to offer.

At any rate, it is best to separate the two and optimize them individually.

PPC can quickly help you promote your business to new customers, but it could be a big waste of money if not managed properly. If you follow the above 5 tips, you will increase your chance of success significantly. Now, go and start optimizing your ppc campaigns!

Share Your PPC Tips By Commenting Below

If you have good experience with PPC and want to share additional tips, please comment below. You may also ask me any questions related to PPC by commenting below.

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Content Marketing Website Design

Secrets to Creating A Sticky Web Page that Captivates Your Visitors

sticky website frogHaving a website alone is no guarantee that you will get any business if your site is lousy. If you want visitors to stick around once they land on your website, your website better be sticky and engaging. Nowadays, people have so much distractions – The TV, Facebook, Youtube, Iphone, Ipod, not to mention other competing websites! You only have a few seconds to captivate your visitors’ attention when they land on your site.

If you fail to make a strong impression or fail to engage them instantly, they will quickly hit the back button and look for something else!

So how can you make your site more sticky and engaging? Follow these rules:

Create an Attractive and Professional Looking Design

You only have less than 5 seconds to make an impression on your visitors. As such, the look and feel of your site must instantly convey professionalism and trust when visitors first land on your site. Follow these tips to ensure your site has an attractive and professional look and feel:

  • Have a professionally designed logo – The logo represents your brand and your image. Therefore, make sure you invest some money to hire a professional graphic designer to design a logo for your business.  The logo should be positioned on the upper left corner of the header section.
  • Use maximum of 3-4 colors for your color scheme – Use 2 dominant colors for your site features and 2 colors for background and Call to Action buttons. Keeping the number of colors to a minimum of 3-4 make your site more pleasing to look at. Also, make sure the colors go well together. You can refer to the site colourlovers.com for suggested color schemes.
  • Use high quality, crisp, and professional looking photos or images that are relevant to the content. Images and graphics make your content more interesting and captivating. Just make sure the images or photos are relevant to the content.
  • Have enough white spaces around the important elements – White space provides breathing area for your site and makes your site looks cleaner.
  • Use a clean, simple layout – Find inspiration from Apple. Apple is the expert at using clean and simple, yet elegant designs. Simple isn’t necessarily easy. Creating something that is simple can be a challenge as we naturally want to throw the whole kitchen sink into a design. Resist that urge and only show what’s necessary. Also, stick to a 2 column layout. 3 column layout design can overwhelm the visitors.

Let Visitors Know They Are in the Right Place

When the visitors land on your site, they want to know right away whether you have what they are looking for. If your site is not clear on what you offer, they will bounce right away. Follow these tips to help visitors know they are in the right place:

  • Have a tagline – A tagline is a branding element that succintly summarizes what your site offers to your visitor. A tagline should be short and located beneath the logo.
  • Have a powerful headline near the top of the page that conveys what values you offer to your visitors.
  • Include a short paragraph to explain what your business do and who your target customers are on the top of the page. Also, include a few bullet points on the top to convey the features,  benefits, and value proposition of your products or services.

Establish Trust and Credibility

Visitors are always waried of spams and unscrupulous sites. They would only engage with you and follow you if you are trustworthy and credible. To establish trust and credibility, you must include the following trust elements on your site:

  • Show customer testimonials and/or case studies – Social proof is the best way to establish your credibility. If you’re good at what you do, then prove it by showing your clients’ testimonials or case studies. Video testimonials are the best. If not, try to get their photos. If you are a B2B business, then do show logos of your clients.
  • Show press mentions – Did you appear on the news or some popular magazines/blogs/news sites?
  • Show Industry Association seal – If you are member of your industry association, show off those seals.
  • Site security seals – If you collect personal information or credit card payment on your site, then it is absolutely necessary to show your site security seals (Verisign, Truste, McAffee, etc).

Create Awesome and Epic Content

Once you’ve made a strong impression on your visitors with a professional looking site and have established your credibility, you still need great, jaw dropping content to keep your visitors engaged. How do you create great content?

Content is a combination of texts, graphics, and videos that work well together to deliver the message that resonates with the visitors. To create great content, you first need to have a clear understanding of who your target audience is, what their pain points are, what problems they are trying to solve, and how can you make their life easier or better with your solutions.

Content is the foundation of your website and marketing efforts. To drive traffic and repeat visitors, you must continuously add content to your site. A great way to add content to your site is to add a blog. You can write blog articles about anything that might provide value to your visitors. Topics that are interesting to your visitors include news and trends in your industry, how to do certain things better, faster, or cheaper. You can also do interviews with other experts in your industry and post the interview in your blog article.

Be sure to follow good copywriting principles when writing your content. Also, make sure you format your content for best user experience, which means using lots of bullets, avoiding long sentences and long paragraphs, and use bolded sub headlines to introduce different topics.

Do Everything Possible to Capture Your Visitors’ Email!

When visitors come to your website, if they don’t call you or fill out the contact form, you don’t want them to just leave and forget about you. That would be a waste of your marketing money and efforts.

You have to be able to capture your visitors’ email.  But in order for your visitors to give up their emails, you need to offer them something compelling. Perhaps, you can offer them a free report, a free Ebook, a coupon, free demo, etc. Make the offer as attractive as possible.

Once you have your prospects’ email, you can continue the dialogue and build a relationship with your prospects by providing them with additional offers and content (articles, case studies, videos, webinars, etc). This process is essential for building trust. It may take a few weeks to a few months before prospects decide to do business with you.

You can use an “autoresponder” email marketing service to send email messages to your list of prospects automatically. A good starter autoresponder service for small businesses that you can use is Aweber, probably the most popular one out there. It costs only $20 a month.

Since Aweber is an established email service company and is recognized among Google, Yahoo, AOL, your email messages will have higher delivery rate and not end up in the SPAM box.

Another good email marketing program to use is Vertical Response.

Website Design Resources

For small business websites, I highly recommend building your website on the WordPress Content Management System. There are lots of advantages to using WordPress. First of all, it’s a free content management system, which makes it really easy for you to update or make changes to your site. No programming or geeky stuffs required. Additionally, there are lots of plugins available that add lots of cool and useful features and functionalities to you site.

And with the help of a professional wordpress theme, you could produce an attractive and professional looking site within hours. Here are 2 WordPress themes professional designers use:

  1. Thesis theme – If you enjoy customizing and producing your own unique designs, the Thesis wordpress theme would be perfect for you. Used by many professional designers and businesses, Thesis has awesome built in typography and powerful SEO features as well as design flexibility.
  2. Studiopress theme – Studiopress theme is also another popular wordpress theme that has amazing designs and powerful SEO features. If you just want an attractive and professional looking website without having to do much customization, then the Studiopress would be perfect!

Where to get High Quality Images & Graphics

Here are 2 places to get high quality images and graphics:

Email Autoresponder Service

 

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Business Strategy Internet Marketing

Unlock This One Key to Explode Your Business Growth and Success!

keys to business successWhat do companies like Apple, Nordstrom, Zappos, and Ritz Carlton have in common other than being very successful?

Do you know what makes them successful and the reasons why they are the most admirable companies?

It could be argued that there are lots of things that go into making a successful company. But from my observation, the key to business success that are embodied by these great companies is their abilities to deliver amazing experiences to their clients.

The amazing experiences could come from one or a combination of factors, including great products and incredible customer services. No matter how you do it, if you can delight your customers with amazing experiences, you will undoubtedly have them as loyal customers for life!

Furthermore, these loyal customers can help your business grow to unimaginable level through their referrals. It is known that a happy customer will most likely tell their friends and family members about his/her great experience.

I have seen many businesses that exist for the sole purpose of just making money. Most often than not, these businesses either go out of business or struggle to survive.

I know of many restaurants that fall into the above category. The owner thinks that he/she could just open a restaurant and expect customers to be coming in every night. First of all, most restaurants that I’ve been to serve lousy food. I’ve had food that are worst than frozen dinner I bought at the super market. Secondly, the service is just horrible! The waiters and waitresses are rude and seldomly smile.

It’s no surprise that these restaurants go out of business within a few years.

How to Deliver Amazing Experiences and Have them coming back for More

If you want your business to have long term success, you must put your customers first. Your goal and focus should be on delivering amazing experiences to your customers. That’s the key to business success!

Nowadays, competition is quite fierce for every type of businesses. To be successful, you have to do things that separate yourself from the rest.

One of the best ways to make your business standout is to deliver amazing experiences to your customers. All it takes is some efforts and some creativities from you.

Here are the step to delivering amazing customer experiences:

  1. Examine everything your company does that affect the customers’ experience (products, customer service, return policy, etc).
  2. Could your products be made any better? If you are serving food or desserts, could use better and fresher ingredients? Did it pass your taste test?
  3. Is your staff properly trained on customer service? Do they smile and speak to customers in a friendly and engaging tone?
  4. What can you add with minimal costs that can enhance the customer experience? If you have a salon, how about buying a coffee machine and giving customers free coffee or tea while they’re waiting? Or how providing Nintendo Wii games?

If you can just do the little things and focus on enhancing the customers’ experience, I guarantee you that your business will not only grow, but it will thrive and prosper!

Please Share Your Experience

What have you done in your business lately that delighted or amazed your customers? Please share by commenting below! Don’t be shy!

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Internet Marketing Video Marketing

Follow these Video Marketing Tips to Generate Massive Traffic to Your Small Business Website

video marketingVideo has become the hottest trend in online marketing for small businesses.

Video injects life and stirs visitors’ emotions. As you know, people are visual and emotional. Video is great for captivating visitors’ attention and helps you to create a strong emotional connection for your offerings. As a result, you will get more calls, more clicks, and more customers that want to buy your products or visit your store.

Nowadays, you have lots of low cost tools to create videos. You can use a pocket video camera such as the ones from Kodak or you can even use your phone’s video camera. Don’t worry too much about making it look professional and perfect, although it’s important that the audio quality is too. Also, you should try be engaging and show your personality. And most importantly, just do it!

What Kind of Videos Should You Produce

Here are the different type of videos that you can make to post on your site as well as Video Sharing sites such as Youtube, Viddler, Vimeo, etc.

  • Welcome Video to give user a tour of your office/facility
  • Tell a story of how you get started in your business and what you are passionate about
  • Testimonials of happy clients
  • Product Demos to show customers the correct and best ways to use your products
  • Educational “how to” videos to teach and share your knowledge and experiences
  • Humorous and viral videos that is related to your business, products, or services.

How to use Videos

Video is great for introducing your customers to your products or store. You can use videos to give your visitors a tour of your storefront and your facility.

If you sell products or offer services, you can demonstrate how your products or services work in action. If your video is hypnotic, you have a better chance of compelling your prospects to buy your products or visit your stores.

An example of a successful video marketing campaign is Blendtec’s “will it blend” Youtube video. By creating a series of videos demonstrating whether the Blendtec blender can blend certain objects, these videos quickly gained attention and popularity among the Youtube visitors and members. Thanks to the viral effect of the videos, Blendtec has quickly gained exposure for their blender products.

How to Put Video On Your Website

To put the video on your website or blog, you can have your video hosted on Youtube and just embed the JavaScript code on your website.

Youtube is free, and the quality is good enough for typical uses. To learn more about uploading videos to Youtube, check out the help section on Google.

To display the Youtube video on your website, you would need to get the code and embed that code into your website. Just click on the “share” button and the click on the “Embed” button and copy the code. Then just insert this code into your website. You also have the option of customizing the width and height.

embedding youtube video

How to Produce a Video

You have myriad of tools to produce a video. The cheapest methods are to use your digital camera or mobile phone. If you want better quality video and sound, then I suggest you get a Kodak pocket video camera. Below are some popular models with high ratings on Amazon.

Kodak Zi8

Kodak Zx5

Kodak Zi6

To add special effects and edit your video, you can use a video editing program. You can use a free one such as Imovie (for Mac) or Window Moviemaker. However, if you want to produce high quality and more professional videos, you should use a professional video editing software such as Adobe Premiere Elements (Retail at $79).

If you don’t want to mess around with camera and software, then consider using Animoto. Animoto allows you to easily create amazing videos from your photos, video clips and music. They have a rich library of music for you to use.

Within 5-10 minutes, you could create a compelling slideshow video with music and nifty special effects.

Below is an example of a video made using Animoto.

SEO benefits of Video

Creating videos is a quick way for you to get found on Google. Google includes videos in the universal search results. Currently, there is little competition for videos.

So if you optimize your Youtube videos for Google Search, you have a good chance of getting your videos listed on Google universal search results when someone conduct a search related to the keyword phrase that you want to optimize for.

To optimize your video for search, follow these tips:

  • Include your keyword phrase in the title.
  • Include your keyword phrase again in the description field.
  • Don’t forget to tag your video. Try to come up as many related keywords as possible and tag your video with these keywords.
  • Build some links to the URL where your video is located on Youtube. Just like doing SEO for your web page, getting some high quality links to your video could give your video a boost in the search results.

In addition, to get the most out of your video, follow these best practice tips:

  • Include a link to your website at the beginning of the description field so that people can click on the link and get sent to your website after they finish watching your video.
  • Keep the duration of your video to less than 2 minutes. People’s interest seem to wane after 2 minutes.
  • Have a Call to Action at the end of your video. You might have something like, “Get your $20 off coupon for first time customer at www.YourBusiness.com”.
  • Ask all your friends, family, and customers to watch the video on Youtube and make comments and click on “like.” The more people interact with your
    video, the better the ranking for your video.
  • Try to keep it simple and really show your personality. Don’t worry too much about making it go viral.

Uploading and Distributing Your Videos

Upload and distribute your videos to as many video sharing sites as possible. Besides Youtube, there are sites such as Dailymotion.com, MySpace, Motionbox.com, Video.google.com, Video.Yahoo.com, Vimeo.com, etc.

Next, you should bookmark and link to the URL of your video using social bookmarking, web 2.0 properties, and blogs. The more links you get, the higher your video would rank on Google.

By promoting your videos across all these different channels, it helps your business to get huge exposure and drive hordes of traffic to your website.

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Email Marketing Internet Marketing

Email Marketing Tips to Build Loyal Customers For Your Small Business

Email marketing is a powerful way of building relationships with your customers and to send updates and special offers to your customers. This essential effort helps to drive your customers back to your business. Furthermore, email marketing helps you build up a network of contacts.

I am just surprised that not enough small businesses use email marketing. With a network or database of customers, you can continue to market to them and have them continuously refer their friends & family members to you.

As such, it is important for you to try to capture your customers and prospects’ contact information at every opportunity and touch point (on your website, at tradeshow, at point of sale in your store, surveys, at seminars, etc).

Once you have your prospect’s email, you have to make a genuine effort to build relationship and gain their trust. You have to establish yourself as the expert in your field so that they can count on you anytime they need help or their friends/family need help.

You can establish your credibility and expertise by providing them with useful and valuable information pertaining to your business and industry.

An email costs you almost nothing. By using an “autoresponder” email marketing service, you can send an email to your list of prospects and customers automatically. A good starter autoresponder service for small businesses that you can use is Aweber, probably the most popular one out there. It costs only $20 a month.

Since Aweber is an established email service company and is recognized among Google, Yahoo, AOL, your email messages will have higher delivery rate and not end up in the SPAM box.

Another good email marketing program to use is Vertical Response. With Vertical Response, you have the option of paying per email sent. If you don’t send email as often, you may prefer to use Vertical Response.

How to Motivate Your Prospects And Clients to Sign Up

You’d need to give your clients and prospects some incentives in order to get them to sign up and offer their emails to you. You can use incentives such as offering them free downloads, free whitepapers, coupons, discounts, immediate notice of new items arrival, or when you are offering specials.

Other incentives may include a special report or E-book that they can immediately download. Be sure to mention these incentives and encourage your prospects and customers to give you their emails on your website, brochure, at the cashier checkout, at tradeshows, or on any other marketing literatures and events.

For example, if you have a restaurant, you can instruct your waiter/waitress to ask for the customer’s email in exchange for a free dessert coupon on their next visit.

This is called “permission” email marketing. In other words, you only e-mail people that give you permission to e-mail them. It’s important that you never send mass, unsolicited emails to people. Doing so is ineffective and may lead to legal troubles for your business.

On your website, you can use an “auto responder” service like Aweber to create a sign up form. Aweber will give you a JavaScript code that you can insert on your website to get the Opt-in form.

Here are some best practice advices to follow to maximize your email marketing success:

  • At the beginning of your email relationship, focus on providing useful and helpful content and information.  You can offer a “how to” articles or reviews of certain products, or results of some surveys/polls. Don’t try to sell too much. What you try to do is to establish your credibility and gain their trust.
  • Segment your customers using a database system and send customized marketing messages to each target group. You may segment your customers based on behavior  or demographics information.For behavior segmenting, the key information you want to pay attention to are the frequency (how often the customer buy or visit your business) and recency of purchase (the date of their most recent purchase or visit).The customers that buy frequently from you and most recently are obviously the most valuable customers. You would want to spend more of your marketing resources on these group of customers and ensure that they remain loyal customers. For customers that do not respond to your offers or rarely open your emails, you may want to reengage the:
  • Write a compelling subject line – As you know, most people get bombarded with all kind of emails everyday. How do you make your email stand out from the rest? They key is having a compelling subject line. You should limit the subject line to around 50 characters and make it compelling.
  • You can also split test your subject line on a sample first and pick the best one to blast out to the rest. For example, if you have a big enough database, you can randomly select 100 subscribers and divide them into group A and group B. Send half of the emails with subject line A to group A and half of the emails with subject line B to group B.
  • What you’re trying to measure is the open rate (most email service providers provide this statistic). Between the two subject lines, you would then select the highest performing one and use that to send your email message to the rest of the list in your database.
  • Place the opt-in box in a prominent location of your website. The opt-in box should be on every page and it should be in a visible location of your website, usually the upper left or upper right.
  • Ask for feedback – Feedback from your customers can help you serve them better. Ask them for ideas on content, whether they’re happy with the content, and areas of improvement.
  • Ask for referrals – If you have customers that are happy with your services, ask them to refer you to their friends/family.

Lastly, you need to make your privacy policy very clear. Your prospects and customers must trust that you would never sell or give away their email addresses to any third parties before they feel comfortable to give up their emails to you. As you know, everyone hates to be spammed!

To learn more about email marketing, you can visit the Aweber website. They have many great articles on email marketing best practices.

Chapter 8: Unleash the Power of E-Mail Marketing

Collecting emails from your customers and prospects is a powerful way of building relationships, sending them updates and special offers, and driving them back to your stores! Also as important is the ability to build up a network of contacts.

I am just surprised that not enough businesses use email marketing. With a network or database of customers, you can continue to market to them and have them refer their friends/family to you.

As such, it is important for you to try to capture your customers and prospects’ contact information at every opportunity and touch point (on your your website, at tradeshow, at point of sale in your store, surveys, at seminars, etc).

Once you have your prospect’s email, you have to make a real effort to build relationship and gain their trust. You have to establish yourself as the expert in your field so that they can count on you anytime they need help or their friends/family need help.

You can establish your credibility and expertise by providing them with useful and valuable information pertaining to your business and industry.


An email costs you almost nothing. By using an “autoresponder” service, you can send an email to your list of prospects and customers automatically. A good starter autoresponder service for small businesses that you can use is Aweber, probably the most popular one out there. It costs only $20 a month.

Since Aweber is an established email service company and is recognized among Google, Yahoo, AOL, your email messages will have higher delivery rate and not end up in the SPAM box.


Another good email marketing program to use is Vertical Response. With Vertical Response, you have the option of paying per email sent. If you don’t send email as often, you may prefer to use Vertical Response.


How to Motivate Your Prospects And Clients to Sign Up

You’d need to give your clients and prospects some incentives in order to get them to sign up and offer their emails to you. You can use incentives such as offering them free downloads, free whitepapers, coupons, discounts, immediate notice of new items arrival, or when you are offering specials.

Other incentives may include a special report or E-book that they can immediately download. Be sure to mention these incentives and encourage your prospects and customers to give you their emails on your website, brochure, at the cashier checkout, at tradeshows, or on any other marketing literatures and events.

For example, if you have a restaurant, you can instruct your waiter/waitress to ask for the customer’s email in exchange for a free dessert coupon on their next visit.

This is called “permission” email marketing. In other words, you only e-mail people that give you permission to e-mail them. It’s important that you never send mass, unsolicited emails to people. Doing so is ineffective and may lead to legal troubles for your business.

On your website, you can use an “auto responder” service like Aweber to create a sign up form (see figure 3 below for an example). Aweber will give you a JavaScript code that you can insert on your website to get the Opt-in form similar to the one below:

 

 

Here are some best practice advices to follow to maximize your email marketing success:

  • You need to make your privacy policy very clear. Your prospects and customers must trust that you would never sell or give away their email addresses to any third parties before they feel comfortable to give up their emails to you. As you know, everyone hates to be spammed!

  • At the beginning of your email relationship, focus on providing useful and helpful content and information. You can offer a “how to” articles or reviews of certain products, or results of some surveys/polls. Don’t try to sell too much. What you try to do is to establish your credibility and gain their trust.

  • Segment your customers using a database system and send customized marketing messages to each target group. You may segment your customers based on behavior or demographics information.

    For behavior segmenting, the key information you want to pay attention to are the frequency (how often the customer buy or visit your business) and recency of purchase (the date of their most recent purchase or visit).

    The customers that buy frequently from you and most recently are obviously the most valuable customers. You would want to spend more of your marketing resources on these group of customers and ensure that they remain loyal customers.

    For customers that do not respond to your offers or rarely open your emails, you may want to reengage them

  • Write a compelling subject line – As you know, most people get bombarded with all kind of emails everyday. How do you make your email stand out from the rest? They key is having a compelling subject line. You should limit the subject line to around 50 characters and make it compelling.

    You can also split test your subject line on a sample first and pick the best one to blast out to the rest. For example, if you have a big enough database, you can randomly select 100 subscribers and divide them into group A and group B. Send half of the emails with subject line A to group A and half of the emails with subject line B to group B.

    What you’re trying to measure is the open rate (most email service providers provide this statistic). Between the two subject lines, you would then select the highest performing one and use that to send your email message to the rest of the list in your database.

  • Place the opt-in box in a prominent location of your website. The opt-in box should be on every page and it should be in a visible location of your website, usually the upper left or upper right.

  • Ask for feedback – Feedback from your customers can help you serve them better. Ask them for ideas on content, whether they’re happy with the content, and areas of improvement.

  • Ask for referrals – If you have customers that are happy with your services, ask them to refer you to their friends/family.


To learn more about email marketing, you can visit the Lyris website. They have many great articles on email marketing best practices.

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Blogging

Follow these Blogging Tips to Attract Massive Number of Visitors

Blogging benefits small businesses in so many ways. Blogging helps to establish yourself as the expert in your field, drive traffic to your site, and allows you to engage with your readers and build your community of loyal followers. A successful blog post could bring flood of visitors to your website!

Furthermore, the search engines love content-rich websites. Sites that have lots of originial and quality content generally get good rankings on the search engines.

And the most effective way to add high quality content is to add a blog to your website. A blog allows you to quickly and easily supply fresh content to your site. If you know how to use Microsoft Word, you can definitely compose and publish a blog post.

It’s been shown that companies that blog generate over 50% more visitors and leads/sales than those who don’t. That should be a big motivation factor right there!

What You Should Blog About?

Most people struggle with topics to blog about. Let me give you some ideas…

First, put yourself in the shoes of your target audience and think about the problems they want to solve, the information that can help them with their businesses, the news or updates that are relevant to them.

Here are some additional topics you can blog about:

  • News/stories within your industry
  • Answers to common questions that your customers ask you
  • New services or products that your business just introduced
  • Tips and secrets that help teach your audience to ease their pains, perform their jobs better, or enrich their lives.
  • Interviews with experts in your industry
  • Discuss future trends
  • Discuss controversial issues
  • Provide reviews of other people’s products, services, books, blogs, etc.
  • Anything related to your industry, business or your employees.

The purpose of blogging is to inform, educate, update, entertain, and tickle or stimulate your visitors. For example, if you have a dry cleaning business, you can blog about “green” dry cleaning process. If you are an accountant, you can blog about ways to reduce your tax bill. If you’re a dentist, you can blog about the importance of flossing. Giving tips is a great blogging idea. You can give tips to help your readers learn more or understand more about the topics related to your business.

Which Blogging Platform to Use

There are a couple of blogging platforms that you can use. The two most popular are blogger.com and wordpress.org. My choice is WordPress.org due to the wide variety of free plug-ins available. Plug-ins are scripts written by individuals to provide additional functionalities to WordPress. WordPress has a big and powerful collection of plug-ins.

Most web hosting companies give you a one click installation of a wordpress blog using SimpleScript or Fantasico. It’s very easy and straight forward to install a blog. There are lots of free as well as paid themes that you can use to quickly setup your blog.

However, you should look for WordPress themes that have built in strong SEO functionalities and attractive looking designs.

The Best WordPress Themes Used by Professionals

The 2 best wordpress themes that meet my criteria of having strong built in SEO functionalities and attractive looking designs are the StudioPress and Thesis Themes. These 2 themes are 2 of the most popular WordPress themes used by many small businesses.

Bloggin Best Practices

Here are some blogging best practices to follow:

  • Post unique and high quality content as much as possible. Again, tips related content make great blog posts and appreciated by the readers. The minimum should be at least once a week. The length for a post should be between 400 to 600 words. You should also try to solicit for feedback and comments from your readers.
  • Have a compelling headline that intrigues and hooks the readers and make them to want to read your blog post to find out more…
  • Include videos, images, and infographics when possible to make your post more captivating. You can host your videos on Youtube and just embed the Youtube video in your blog post.
  • Make use of the Google keyword tool to find keywords that have high number of searches. If you own a local business, make sure you optimize your blog posting by incorporating the location keywords into the title, description, headlines, and throughout the body of the post. Optimize your blog post for the long tail keywords (keywords with 4 or more words in them) since those keywords usually drive the most targeted and relevant traffic.
  • Link back to the main pages on your website from your blogging articles using relevant keywords as the anchor texts. Building internal links to the primary pages (home page as well as the different product and service pages) help boost SEO performance of these pages.
  • Perform SEO for your blog and each of your blog post using best SEO practices. These include making sure that each web post gets indexed and doing proper on-page SEO and Off-Page SEO (link building) practices.

To learn more about blogging, you can do a search on Google for wordpress tutorials or visit Youtube to find video tutorials on how to setup a blog. Additionally, you can check out the websites below for more information:

Again, blogging is one of the best inbound marketing strategies. Blogging helps build brand awareness, bring free traffic to your site, and generate leads/sales for your business. It may take lots of time and works, but it’s worth it!

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SEO

How to do SEO for Your Small or Start-Up Business Website to Get Your Site Found on Top of Google

SEO marketing for small businessHaving a great website is useless if no one can find it.

One of the most common ways people discover new websites is through search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

The key is to have your website appear on the 1st page of the search results as most people don’t look at results beyond the 1st page. To get your small business website appears on the first page of the search engines such as Google, you would have to do some SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization.

If you manage to get your site on the top 3 positions of the Google search result page for your targeted keyword, your site could potentially get flooded with visitors wanting to buy from you. AND IT COSTS YOU NOTHING TOO!

Some people make SEO to be some rocket science stuff. It’s far from the truth! SEO is quite straight forward. However, it does require time, commitment, and a rock solid strategy to get good rankings for your website.

SEO has 4 components:

  1. Building original and remarkable content
  2. Doing On-Page optimization
  3. Link Building
  4. Amplifying the Social Media Signals
  5. User experience

I’ll discuss in details how to optimize for the above 4 components below. Read on….

Creating Original & Remarkable Content For Your Site

On the internet, content is king. But not just any content though. Your content must be original, compelling, relevant to your target audience, and adds value. This is very important for SEO!

To make your content more compelling, you should mix your text content with relevant videos and images/photos.  In addition to the content for your home page and the basic products/service pages, you should create a library of educational and informational articles on your site.

Tutorial and “how-to” articles that teach people how to do their jobs better, how to ease their pain points, how to do something more efficiently or better, or how to improve their lives are always appreciated by your audience.

The more content you can produce, the more opportunities for your website to get found when your prospects do a search on the search engines. Adding a blog is an easy and effective way to add fresh content to your site. Be sure to do your keyword research so you can create content around keywords that have high number of searches and are relevant to your target audience and your business. 

Think of the questions that occupy your target audience’s mind when they are in the process of researching for answers and solutions to the problems that are bothering them. You can then create blog articles around the topics and questions that concern your target audience.

Additionally, write using a conversational tone and use simple, lively, clear, easy to understand languages that have emotional appeal. Avoid jargons and corporate languages that are dull, rigid, and boring!

Again, I can’t emphasize the significance of creating high quality, unique, and compelling content enough. Content is the foundation of SEO. By having great content, it just make your other SEO efforts such as link building and social promotion a lot easier.

You don’t have to create the content by yourself all the time. If you have other people with expert knowledge in your company, you should get that person to contribute to the content creation efforts. Alternatively, you could interview experts or hire outside help to create the content for you.

How to Do On-Page SEO that Satisfy the Search Engine Spiders

On-Page SEO involves doing the things that are on your web page to help the search engine spiders understand what your content is about and what keywords your content are relevant for. If you are in a field that has little competition, doing basic on-page SEO alone could significantly boost your rankings!

Here are the step-by-step plan to do the On-Page SEO:

  1. Determine the keywords that are appropriate for your business. Think about the kind of words or phrases your prospects may type into the search engine to find your business or your offers. Be as specific as possible and focus more on transactional keywords (keywords that lead to a “buy” decision as opposed to research oriented). If you own a local business, it is very important to include your location as part of the keyword phrase. For example, if you are a DUI lawyer in downtown Denver, your keyword phrase could be, “DUI lawyer in downtown Denver area”. For location keywords, you can use names of towns, states, counties, metro areas, communities. Be as specific as you can when it comes to the keywords. You can use the free Google keyword research tool to do your research. The keyword tool will tell you the number of searches per month the keyword phrase and its related keywords have. Of course, the higher the number of searches the better. But you’d have to also check the level of competition on the first pages to make sure that the keyword you choose is not too competitive.
  2. Incorporate the keywords into the Meta Title Tag, The meta Description tag, in the ALT tag of the images, and on the H1, H2 header tags.  The title tag is the most important component of on-page SEO. So, make sure you have the keyword phrase that you want to rank for positioned at the beginning of the title tag. Keep the title tag under 65 characters. Although the description meta tag isn’t part of the ranking algorithm, it’s still important to write a compelling description to attract high click through rate. Keep the description under under 155 characters (spaces included) and clearly explains the the page is about with a call to action. Lastly, you should sprinkle the keywords throughout the body of your content. You don’t necessarily have to repeat the exact keyword phrase throughout your page. In fact, it’s better to use a few different variations of your keyword phrases throughout the content of your web page. Lastly, you should focus only on 1 keyword phrase per page.
  3. Write a compelling and unique content that describes exactly what you do, what services/products you offer, what kind of problems you solve, and how your products/services benefit your prospects. Be sure to mention your keyword phrase a few times in your writing. Also, make sure that it’s readable. Don’t write long paragraphs. When reading online, people scan, they don’t read. So, use easy to understand language, short paragraphs, lots of bullets, and headlines/subheadlines as necessary.
  4. Get your web pages indexed – Once you are finished with creating all the pages on your website and you have done the on-page optimization, you must let the search engines know of your website and webpage’s existence.The best way to get your website and webpage indexed by the search engine is to get links to each of your main web page. To get links to your web page, you can bookmark each of your web page using bookmarking services such as digg.com, mixx.com, or furl.net, create an ad on Craigslist.org and make a link to your web page or get a link to your web page from another website.
  5. Make sure each page of your website is optimized with its own unique keyword phrase. Don’t just use the same keyword, same Meta Title Tag, same Meta Description Tag for your home page as well as your service or about us pages. For each page, you should use different keyword phrase and incorporate that keyword phrase in the title tag, meta description tag, headline, and in the body copy of that particular page.
  6. Finally, make sure your site is structured logically using proper hierachy and that keywords are incorporated in the URLs. I.e. Instead of www.JoeSmoAttorney.com/page2.html, it should be www.JoeSmoAttorney.com/dui-service.html.

The Right Way to Do Link Building to Avoid Being Penalized by the Search Engines

Although doing the on-page SEO efforts is a good start, the key to boosting the ranking of your web pages is to attract lots of natural and high quality links from websites that have high authority and are related to your business.

A link to your site is like a vote of confidence for your site. If Google believes your web page to be a high authority and high quality web page for the particular keywords that the searchers are typing in the Google search box, your web page will have a high chance of appearing on the 1st page of the Google search results.

The key is to get one way links from high authority and relevant websites. High authority sites are sites are established and trusted. They usually have high page ranks also.

Google uses a sophisticated algorithm to determine the PR ranking of a website. A high PR ranking usually means that the particular website is established, been around for awhile, has great content, and have other authoritative websites linking to it.

When you get links back to your web page, you’d want to ensure the anchor text of the link is the same as the keywords you are trying to optimize your web page for.

Anchor text is simply the text with the blue underlined link. For example, instead of a link that just have your website URL, it would be better if the hyperlink is something like, “if you need acupuncture treatment, you should visit Grand Acupuncture in downtown Oakland.”

In this example, “Grand Acupuncture in downtown Oakland” would be the anchor text that links to the Grand Acupuncture website (i.e. www.grandacupuncture.com).

This is key because it indicates to the search engines what the topic of your web page is about and helps to optimize your ranking for the keyword “Grand Acupuncture in downtown Oakland.” Don’t use the same exact words as anchor texts though as that may trigger the Google spam filter (Google doesn’t want you to actively engage in link building schemes). You should try different variations of the same keyword or sometimes link to your site using just your domain URL to make it seems more natural.

Google doesn’t want you to engage in a link building scheme that is designed to increase your rankings. The best links are the links that earned without asking. But if you were to ask other people to link to your website, make sure that it seems natural.

Here are some popular ways to get links to your site:

  • Request links from partner sites or sites/blogs related to your business and industry – If there are businesses that offer complimentary services or products to your business, you can send a personal email to the owner or webmaster and ask for a link. If you find blogs or websites that are related to your business or industry, do reach out to owners, network with them, and request for a link back to your site. Be sure to explain how your website can benefit their readers.
  • Submit your site to high quality and relevant directories – The 2 directories which have high PR ranking and worth getting links from are www.DMOZ.org and Yahoo Directory. DMOZ is free, but the process to get your site listed usually takes longer.Yahoo charges an annual fee of $299. It is worth the money to try to get your site listed in these 2 main directories. You can also search on Google for vertical directories that are related to your business. The other 2 directories that are worth getting listed on are BOTW.org and Business.com.
  • Get links from school, local business organizations (Chamber of Commerce), local directories, and local blogs – For school, you may sponsor an event or offer to buy uniforms for the baseball team in exchange for a link to your site. For local blogs, you should contact the owner of the blog and ask the owner to link to your site or you can propose to write a guest blog post for their sites and link back to your site in the “about the author” section.
  • Web 2.0 Sites – Web 2.0 sites such as Squidoo.com and Hubpages.com allow you to create and publish your content on their sites. Within your content, you could create backlinks to your own site. Since both Squidoo.com and Hubpages.com have high PR, getting links from these domains to your site can provide a big boost to your SEO efforts.
  • Guest Blogging – Writing guest blog posts on blogs that are complementary to your site is one of the best methods of building links to your site. Another added benefit is that you get exposure to a new audience. If your guest blog article is really awesome, you could compel the new audience to visit your site and perhaps become your loyal customers too.  To get started, find blogs that are related to your industry and pitch your blog article idea to the blog owner. In addition, you can also use the service from myblogguest.com to find guest blogging opportunities.
  • Links from Social Media Networks – Social networking sites such as twitter, linkedin, and facebook, google +  allow you to list a few links in your profile.
  • Writing Press Releases – Writing press releases is another method of promoting your business/website and getting links back to your site. A good company to use is Prweb.com. When you submit your news releases to PRWeb, they will be indexed by search engines like Google, get sent to top news sites like Yahoo! News and placed into RSS feeds with over 250,000 subscribers which include bloggers, journalists and consumers. Additionally, PRWeb helps to generate backlinks and inbound links from other premium sites to your own website. This help build your website’s credibility in the search engines. Sign up today and get 10% off your first news release!

Above are some effective and “white hat” linking techniques endorsed by the search engines.  Again, I want to reiterate the importance of building links to your website. It does take a lot of works, but it will significantly boost your search engine rankings performance if you make the efforts to work at it. You should aim to get high quality links from diversified sources and avoid unscrupulous or spamming link building techniques such as these:

  • Paying for links or getting links from sites that are shady or sites that are not related to your business. Paid links are against Google’s quality guidelines. It’s not recommended, but in some cases, it may be worth it. Just be careful, do proper due diligence, and know what you are getting yourself into!
  • Link exchanges with link partners that are not related to your business.
  • Spamming blogs and forums with generic, non value added comments.
  • Submitting your sites to hundreds of low quality and free directories. These are useless and could even hurt your rankings.

No doubt link building is hard work! But you don’t have to do it all at once. In fact, it is best to continuously work at it here and there. This makes it seem more natural to the Search Engines. You should build links to your home page as well as to the other important pages (products, services pages) in your website. If you have a blog, you can also link from your blog articles to your homepage as well as product/service pages using relevant keywords as anchor texts.

Social Media Signals

Google as well as Bing have indicated that they will factor in the social media signals into their ranking algorithms. Social media signals include twitter tweets and retweets, Facebook likes and Facebook shares, and the newly added Google Plus.

Social media is definitely becoming more popular and useful for business. The more people tweet, facebook like, comment on your website/blog and share or talk about your business or website on social media channels, the more relevant your site becomes.

Here are some tips to participate:

  • Make sure you have social media sharing features on your web pages (i.e. facebook like, twitter tweets, google +, stumbleupon). Encourage your visitors to “like”, “tweet”, and share your content.
  • Promote your content on twitter, facebook, linkedin, and other related blogs and social networking sites.
  • Establish your presence on social media by creating profiles for your business on the main social media sites such as twitter, linkedin, facebook and  engage with people on these social networks.

Improving User Experience

In recent years, user experience is becoming an important factor that contributes to the search engine’s ranking algorithm. If your site provides poor user experience to your visitors, this could hurt your rankings. Search engines measure user experience based on data such as the bounce rate and how engage they are when they are on your site.
Here are the factors that affect user experience:
  • Site loading speed – If your site has many large images and are full of Javascripts, this could slow down the loading time. You can use this free Google tool to measure the speed of your site load.
  • Layout and presentation of information – Does your site look professional and trustworthy? By using the right color scheme, high quality images,  good layout, ample white spacings, and proper formatting, your site will look more professional and trustworthy. Check out this blog post to learn how you can improve the user experience on your site.
  • Use intuitive navigation and architecture – Is your navigation clear and intuitive? Your site architecture and navigation should be designed in a way that help visitors to find the desired information as easily and quickly as possible. Stick to common web standard and convention.

SEO is Hard Work!

If you have read this far, I hope I haven’t gotten your head spinning. No doubt, SEO is hard work! Now, if you don’t have the time, you can always hire an SEO expert to do SEO and link building for you. Just be sure that the SEO company or consultant follow “white hat” and ethical SEO practices!

Also, having a good keyword/SEO tool such as Market Samurai can be a big boost to your SEO efforts. Marketing Samurai is a powerful keyword/SEO tool that allows you to do keyword research as well as SEO functions and analysis.

Check out Market Samurai Now!

Please comment and Click on the Like Button

If you like this article or have other good SEO suggestions, please comment and click on the “like” button.

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Website Design

What are the Necessary Features of a Great Small Business Website?

features of a great small business websiteTo properly brand your business, provide the necessary information to your prospects, and compel your prospects to do business with you, you must have the right combination of  features on your small business website.

What Features/Pages Your Website Should Have

A typical small business website should have the following pages:

  • Home Page – The home page of a website usually receives the most visits. As such, it is important that you do a good job of branding yourself and presenting your business in a professional manner.You only have a few seconds to captivate your prospects’s attention.  As such, you must clearly convey what products and/or services you offer, who your target audience is, what is your value proposition, and why they should do business with you. You can convey the above important messages by using a combination of a tagline or slogan, the texts on the page, and relevant images and videos. Be sure to place all the important information above the fold so the users don’t have to scroll down to see it. Lastly, you may want to include some attractive photos that represents your services or products or a video of you talking about your business on the homepage.
  • About Us Page – The “About Us” page is a perfect opportunity for you to connect with your visitors. This is a very important page of your website and it’s an area where I see most people don’t put enough efforts in. Here, you should talk about the mission of your business, what inspired you to start the business, the history of your business, how long you have been in business, and some information about yourself as well as your staff. Clearly and succinctly let people know what make you special, why they should do business with you and why they should trust you. You should also talk about your credentials and include testimonials, endorsements, awards, or mentions of your business or yourself in the news. Be sure to feature photos and/or videos of yourself, your storefront, as well as your staff. Make it as personable and likeable as possible!
  • Products/Services Page – Clearly describe your products or services in a way that explains how they benefit your target audience, how your products or services can change their lives, and/or how they can solve your target audience’s problems and pain points. Additionally, describe what makes your services or products unique or better than the competition. Remember, it’s not about you but it’s about what you can do for your prospects. So don’t talk too much about features.
  • Free Content – Giving away high quality free content in the forms of articles, video instructions, downloadable PDFs and tip sheets, etc is a fantastic way of establishing your expertise and your credibility. If you are giving away free Ebooks or white papers, be sure to capture your visitors’ email addresses before giving them the download link. That way you can follow up with your prospects and launch your nurturing campaigns.
  • Blog Adding a blog to your site is a great way to share news, updates, educational information, etc with your visitors. By regularly posting to your blog and adding remarkable content, you get 2 benefits. For one, you are helping your SEO efforts as Google likes websites that continuously add fresh content to the sites. Additionally, the more content you have, the more chances your website has to get found and discovered by people searching on the search engines. Secondly, a blog adds that element of interaction to your site. Your visitors can comment and you can respond back to their comments.The best way to add a blog is to host it as a subdomain on your website (i.e. www.yoursite.com/blog). If you host your website at Bluehost, you can easily add a wordpress to your site with a few clicks.
  • FAQs Page – An FAQ page answers the most common questions your customers have. Having an FAQ page saves you the hassles of having to reply to customers’ emails or phone calls.
  • Contact Us Page – The Contact Us page should include a map of the location of your business, directions to your business as well a form for customers to fill out if they need to contact you or ask you for more information. If you use Google Maps, Google provides you with a code that you can embed on your website so that the Google map of your business location can be published on your website.
  • Resource Page – The Resource page can include links to partner sites or sites that provide beneficial and useful information to your visitors. In addition, you could feature all your white papers, webinar replays, and slides on the resource page.
  • Success Stories/Testimonials Page – Testimonials are important for establishing your credibility and instilling confidence in your prospects’ mind. If you can get photos and videos of the people giving the testimonials, this would add more weight to your credibility. If your products are more on the complicated and pricey side, you might want to add some case studies or success stories too.
  • Gallery Page – The Gallery page is a great place to show off photos of your past projects. You can also show the “before and after” photos of your clients/projects.
  • Site Map Page – The site map page is an outline of your website and list all the pages on your site. This is useful for visitors as well as the search engines.
  • Privacy Policy Page – If you plan to collect visitors’ personal information such as emails, phone numbers, etc, it is essential that you include a privacy policy page. If you need help create a privacy policy page, you can use FreePrivacyPolicy.com to create a privacy policy page for your website.
  • An Opt-in form for your newsletter or to download a whitepaper – Having an opt-in form to collect visitors’ email is vital to your business success. Some visitors will not become your customers right away.Thus, you can use an opt-in form to collect their emails and then start to communicating with them and sending them free information.If you do a good job, you can eventually turn them into life long customers. Just make sure to clearly convey the incentives for them to opt-in. The incentives could be to download an information-rich white paper, news of new products availability or special promotions, etc.
  • Call To Action – This is perhaps the most important element of your website. Once you get your visitors to visit your website, you don’t want them to leave and forget all about you.Your job is to convince them to do business with you and to take some actions. Call to Actions could be calling you for more information or to make an appointment, filling out a “contact us” form, or signing up to your newsletter. To entice your prospects to take actions, you could provide them with a free download of your white paper, a report, or E-book. Just make sure that these giveaways provide some value.

The above website features are definitely must haves in order to have a professional and useful business website. In addition to making sure your website contain the above elements, your website should follow the guidelines below to ensure the visitors have the best experience and to ensure the search engines understand what your website is about.

  • Use relevant and meaningful names for each webpages – Don’t call it www.yourdomain.com/page1.html or www.yourdomain.com/page2.html. If you have a page about your dog grooming service in Seattle, then name your page something like www.yourdomain.com/seattle-dog-grooming-service.html.
  • Incorporate keywords related to your business, services, or products in the META title tag, description tag, H1, H2 tags, as well as in the copy of each webpage. You should optimize each web page with its own relevant keywords. Try to keep it 2 keyword phrases per page. If your business serves local customers in a specific geographic area, it is especially important for you to include the geographic keywords into the Title Tag, Description Tag and in the copy. (i.e. “Chiropractor in Houston”, “San Diego Dry Cleaning | Laundry Services”, etc.)
  • Avoid flash if possible – Flash takes awhile to load and it’s not search engine friendly. You don’t really need to use Flash to make a good website. Having a good layout and knowing how to combine colors, good spacing, and fonts can produce a simple, yet elegant and attractive looking website.
  • Do not use Javascripts or graphics for navigation or important content – The search engine spiders do not read Javascripts and graphics that well. Plain text is best for the spiders.
  • Make sure you have original and unique content on every page of your website – The search engines do not like duplicate content and may penalize you in terms of ranking.
  • Incorporate videos – Videos are great for enhancing your visitors’ experience. You can create a welcome video or instructional videos of how to use your products or perform a certain task.For example, if you are a fitness trainer, you can create videos of you teaching people the correct way to do squats or what are the best exercises to give you flat abs. Nowadays, it’s so easy to create a video. You can create a video with a Flip Cam or even your phone camera.

If you follow the above guidelines, you will be able to create a compelling and attractive website that is worthy of your visitor’s time. And if you are able to make a good impression on the visitors, you will have a good chance of converting them into loyal customers!

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Website Design

How to Design a Website that Net You More Customers For Your Small Business

website sampleThe first important step in marketing your business on the Internet and raising your visibility to your prospects is to have a website.

Yet, to my dismay, lots of small businesses out there don’t even have a website!

So if you are a small business owners and you don’t already have a website, go get one now! Your business survival depends on it! In case you don’t already know, the Yellow Pages and traditional ways of doing marketing are ineffective and becoming obsolete.

If you don’t have time to build your own website, you can hire a designer on Craigslist, Elance.com or you can use the SmallBiz WordPress Theme template.

The SmallBiz WordPress Theme template is a great option if you want to quickly and easily build a professional looking website that is optimized for the Search Engines. It leverages the WordPress content management system so that you can easily add content and make updates/changes to your site easily by yourself. And the great thing about it is that you don’t need to do any programming or geeky stuffs by yourself.

Now, if you want to learn how to make a great website, then read on…

Elements of a Bad Website

A lot of people are still fascinated with fancy looking websites with lots of graphics and animations. Let me warn you – A successful and great website has nothing to do with having lots of graphics or animations.

In fact, having lots of graphics and animations can hurt your website performance in many ways. For one, it slows down the loading time. Secondly, it adds lots of clutter and distract the visitors from digesting the main messages.

What is a great website for Small Businesses?

I define a  great website as being attractive, professional looking, simple and clean, and achieve its goals and objectives.
The last words are especially important. You must have goals and objectives for your website!

Your goals and objectives should include making a good impression on your visitors and providing them with necessary and adequate information about your business, products, or services. Additionally, your website must be able to build trust and establish your credibility.

Elements of a Great Small Business Website

As seen in the figure below, the main components of a website are the header, the navigation links, the sidebar, the content area, and the footer area.

Optimal Small Business Website Layout

Optimal Small Business Website Layout

The header area – The header area should contain the Logo, the business name, and business tag line that captures your business’ value proposition. Additionally, you can provide your business’ address and phone number on the far right.

  • Make sure you have a professional looking logo that best represents your business’ image. A professional looking logo represents your brand and it’s important for your business’ credibility! A logo doesn’t have to be fancy. But it should be simple and memorable, using a combination of colors, symbols, typography, and graphics that best portray your brand image. You could create a great logo using only texts. However, you should use a high quality font! Consider using the service of a professional logo designer (on Craigslist or Elance) to create a logo for you. If you want to go with a cheaper option, you could also try the “Do it Yourself” logo design services from LogoDesignPros or Logoworks.
  • Tagline – Having a tagline is optional. A tagline is a memorable, catchy short phrase that conveys the benefits or value proposition of your business.

The Navigation Bar– Links to the different pages of your website should be here. The elements in a navigation bar usually include links to “home”, “products”, “services”, “resources”, “about us”, and “contact us.”

The Right Side Bar – On the right side bar, you could include photos, videos, testimonials, endorsements from 3rd parties, seals/certificates, links to your Facebook, YouTube, and twitter accounts, and other secondary links.

Content Area – The content area is where you write the content for each specific page. Be sure to incorporate your keywords in the body of the content as well as in the <h1>, <h2> heading HTML tags.

Footer Area – On the footer areas, you can include information such as copyright, text links to other pages of your site, the cities that your business serve, and disclaimers, privacy policy, etc.

To make your site look professional, trust worthy, and attractive, make sure you follow these design guidelines:

  • Use professional looking photos and graphics – The photos and images of you, your store, or your products should be of high quality and crisp. Crop if necessary. Also, refrain from using cheesy looking stock images/photos. Instead, take your own photos and let your visitors see your real personality.
  • Use a clean layout with adequate white space – Don’t try to clutter the webpage by jamming everything into it. The look and feel of your site should be clean and focused. Eliminate anything that is not relevant or contribute to conveying your value proposition or business information.
  • Make your web copy  scannable – People don’t read online. They scan! So make your content digestible by having short paragraphs, lots of bullets to communicate benefits and features, and lots of subheadings that are bolded.
  • Use clear, conversational, simple, and lively words and languages – The purpose of your website is to clearly and succintly provide information about your business and services. Avoid fancy jargons, boring, corporate languages, and long, complicated sentences.
  • Use color scheme that is appropriate for your brand – Start with the colors of your logo and refer to the colourlovers.com site to get ideas on color palettes. In general, use no more than 4 colors!
  • Use easy to read fonts – Although there lots of fancy fonts to choose from, you should just stick with basic fonts such as Arial, Georgia, and Helvetica. These fonts make your texts easy to read, which is more important than anything else. Additionally, the font size of your text should be large enough so that people don’t hurt their eyes trying to read your content. Font size of 14px is recommended.
  • Maintain proper contrast between text color and background color – The colors you pick for your text and background color should show have some level of contrast. The contrast should be subtle and pleasing to the eyes rather than jarring to the eyes though. A white or light grey background with black text is usually a safe option.
  • Keep your website width at 960 pixels and centered – 960 pixel width is the standard web site width for a 2-3 columns layout design. If you have a simple website with just 1 column layout, you can opt for a website width of 800 pixels. Be sure your site is centered on the screen. I still see some sights that are left centered. Today, most of the users have a large screen monitor. If your site is left centered, the users would have to constantly turn their neck and their eyes to the left!

The above proven web design principles are the foundation for creating a professional website for your business. By following the above guidelines, you will create a site that earns visitors’ trust and praise. Again, if you don’t have time to build your own website, you can hire a designer on Craigslist or you can use the SmallBiz WordPress Theme template to quickly and easily build your site.

Please read the post, “Features of a Great Small Business Website” to learn about what information to put on your website to make your visitors like you, trust you, and want to do business with you.

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